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December 15. 2012 11:56PM

Ian Clark's On Hockey: Veteran Legein embraces defensive role for Monarchs

MANCHESTER MONARCHS forward Stefan Legein is a realist.

Now in his sixth pro season, Legein knows playing on the top line for an NHL team is probably not in the cards for him.

But that doesn't mean the NHL istelf is out of reach.

"There's not a chance that I'm better than (Anze) Kopitar and the top six guys in L.A.," Legein said. "So for me to find a way to the NHL, I need to find a way to be a bottom six guy and be reliable in every situation."

Which is why Legein hasn't minded becoming a "bottom six" guy at the AHL level who is relied on more for his defensive skills than scoring.

"Everybody wants to be the guy on the power play and five-on-three and scoring big goals but the reality of the sport is that not everyone gets those roles," Legein said. "There's your top six forwards and there's no seven. For me to be able to blend into any line and know I have the ability to play on the top six if needed (is important), but to know I can be a bottom six guy is important to me as well."

Because the ultimate goal is being in the lineup. With four extra bodies in town that would likely be playing in Los Angeles if not for the NHL lockout (Dwight King, Jordan Nolan, Andrei Loktionov and Slava Voynov), playing time is tough to come by.

"I'm trying to find a more defensive role so I can keep myself in the lineup consistently," Legein said. "With the amount of offensively skilled players we have it's going to be tough to keep up with some of those guys. I'm just trying to find a role that gets you in the lineup for the night and help the team win because all that matters is helping the team win."

Legein has scoring talent, having scored 24 goals and 10 assists for 34 points with Adirondack in 71 games in 2009-10 and had 14-11-25 in 63 games with Manchester last season. Legein has 1-7-8 thriough 20 games this year.

Legein also has eight career shorthanded goals. His defensive skills make him a penalty kill assett but his speed and ability to finish on the breakaway make him indispensable.

"He has a knack for scoring big goals," said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. "He doesn't score a lot of them, but when he's focused he can be a real effective player in all facets. You can play him lines one through four. He's very adaptable."

That adaptable nature came in handy at the end of last season when injuries piled up and Morris was in need of another body on the PK.

"That's a position that evolved last year in the latter part of the season. We were looking for a guy and I think that over time we learned to appreciate how sure-handed he is under duress," Morris said. "He does a nice job along the boards and gets pucks deep and gets pucks out of his own zone. He's become a very successful penalty killer and takes a lot of pride in that."

Legein is a popular player in the locker room thanks to his sense of humor. At 24-years-old, he comes across as older than his years. In 2009, he briefly stepped away from the game for personal reasons.

But with more experience not only on the ice but in life, Legein has settled in nicely in Manchester with fresh perspective.

"I'm happy I have a job and right now this is the top league in North America," Legein said. "It's a team that wanted to bring me back. They had the choice to let me go or re-sign me. I feel like my career is getting back on that path and hopefully I can keep working toward my dream of playing in the NHL and becoming a regular."

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Fatigue could be a factor for the Monarchs when they host Springfield today at 3 p.m. at Verizon Wireless Arena.

Manchester lost 4-2 in Lewiston, Maine Friday night against Portland, traveled to upstate New York Saturday night and got back early this morning.

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Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He may be reached at iclark@unionleader.com..

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